Skip to main content

“Past Frequent Flyers”: How to Lose your customer, learn from Airlines!

closeup of wing of airplane on air


Airlines remain very indifferent to their customers, specially to their “past Frequent Fliers”! I say past as all senior executives, who fly frequently, take a career break every now and then and reduce their flying frequency, becoming “past Frequent Flyers” I am not sure how much data analyses airlines indulge into, but in my experience, they are worst at it as all these “past Frequent Flyers” are very upset including me!


While I was in USA in early 2000 for several years, I started using United Airlines only as I could collect points and fly my family to USA from India and vice-e-versa. Also, I was flying various continents, I could get easy connection and the tickets were competitively price. I was primarily flying economy as part of a startup and enjoyed. Occasionally, on very long flight, I upgraded myself to Premier Economy that was introduced in later part of my stay. The upgrade came without any fuss, right on the counter and even in last must.


Between 2004 and 2012, I had patronised Jet Airways, an Indian airlines in India and flew almost weekly all around the country and at least once in a quarter, overseas. I must have clocked hundred and thousands of miles spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then in 2012, I sold my company and took a sabbatical. I stopped flying domestic and flew overseas once in a quarter to visit my friends and family in USA. I still preferred the same airlines Jet Airways due to familiarity and excellent inflight service.


Then came a shock. Towards the 3rd quarter of last year, I received a communiqué form the Jet Airways that I have been downgraded to entry level Blue Status from Platinum! All the benefits were withdrawn! I have no status. I felt like I am suddenly nobody and my existence has been reduced to a first time flyer instead of Frequent Flyer.  In fact, just before the news came, I had bought tickets for my next three journeys to Europe and USA, all Biz Class not realising that airlines is going to dump me as persona non-grata. I felt like being betrayed and was genuinely hurt by the airlines behaviour. I even wrote to the airlines and communicated my view point where in I pointed to out that I have been their customer for ten years and don't deserve this treatment. Jet Airways never replied.


This was really upsetting and I decided to change the airlines after almost ten years. I moved to a low cost carrier and dumped the airlines to make it mutual. No more tears but move one to start another relationship. I started taking Indigo Airlines and What a surprise! The ticket was cheaper than Jet, always on time, had less frills & more efficiency and last but not the least, one could buy their way thru for Exit row seats! (I really struggled to get exit row seats on Jet Airways as they were available on first come first serve basis). Indigo has me for a long time till they disappoint me by really defaulting on any of the above. I even flew economy class to Dubai! I am happy that Jet mistreated me!


Then came the shock from Indigo. First Indigo never realised that I was their customer. For them, I was just another customer. Fine as I was flying economy at low fares. However, recently I cancelled on of my travels and guess what, I lost half of my money as cancellation charge! There was even a convenience fee of Rs.500 for cancellation. Really! I freaked and started looking at the terms! No where it said that it is going to charge me such a big amount! I am now really upset and wonder what is the regulator doing! How can someone charge a hefty amount for cancelling a service that has not being used! It defies logic. I can understand if it was a product that I took delivery of and then cancelled the order and the merchant has incurred certain charge! I can even understand if the flight was full and it was an opportunity loss for airlines. Nothing like that has happened. I am even ready for airlines to wait till the flight takes off and the seat that I reserved is taken and then refund my monies. What I cannot comprehend is first a cancellation charge and then resell the service that too on a higher price! This is day time robbery! Hope someone agrees!


This raises many questions and I all I am trying to do is pointing out an opportunity for good data analytic company to build a solution that can help track, see, follow, engage, retain and reward a customer! So here are the pointers:

  • it seems Airlines really don't use analytics in their CRM: Else why would they want to dump me who has been loyal for over ten years and would have got flying in some time after a break?
  • Airlines don't Profile their Customers: Can’t they see that I am 50+ corporate guy who loves travelling, that too biz class, may be taking break?
  • Airlines have very static system: I am sure they can’t see me as they rely on a system that has been create to see the ‘current’ guy! Not me as I am history in just 12 months! In fact, they saw me again, fewer times but they did see me!
  • Airlines methods are primitive: So why didn't they correct themselves? Oh its the machine who does not see me! Oh they haven’t heard Machines Learning? Nope they haven’t! No wonder I am not important anymore for that idiot machine. Then why is Elon Musk so worried? He thinks machine can learn faster and will one day defeat humans to take over! Doesn't Airline know that?
  • Real Ignorant about the flyers need & Zero empathy: Well they have better things to do like flying millions of humans and forgetting about them! All they care about is making monies! No Two Bags! No more than 7Kg in Hand! No More than two bangs in Hand! I am sure if they have real time analysis, they will find that they are carrying way lower baggage loads that their capacity and they can pass that benefit to flyers rather than charging over weight capacity. (I am no way suggesting that they should do that all the time, but occasionally one can based on a travellers record where in someone like me normally travel with only two carry one bag and almost never utilise my baggage allowance)


I can go on & on! But have to stop as not many people are interested in reading long posts. Also, this is a universal problem, not Indian as recently when I took a United Airlines flight, they refuse to acknowledge me (my FF card was non recognisable!) as I was flying after 10 years with them! Talk about friendly skies!


I may be wrong but please educate me as I have no clue how airlines work.